Once upon a time, there lived a girl who loved eating animals so much that every time there was no animal on the table, she got sick. That girl was me.
If Lola were alive today, she possibly will find it hard to reconcile this young woman with her grandchild who got fevers at the idea of eating vegetables. Truth is, me, too. Although I’ve only been a vegetarian for four years, it seems my omnivorous life had been a long, forgotten time ago. This is my story.
Not Love at First Sight
Truth is I hadn’t heard of the word “vegetarian” until second year college. I became friends with a friend’s sister. At that time she was considering becoming vegetarian for the animals. I, on the other hand, was struggling over my weight.
It was just wrong timing, since I was then enrolled in an Envi Sci course and my professor – the Philippines’ prince of whale sharks – had just lectured us about how humans were not designed to be herbivores. Plus, he said, if the whole world went vegetarian, we have to convert land that are not fit to be agricultural to agricultural land. We will compete with the natural environment of other animals. In the end, it will be bad for the planet. Something like that. After an overnight heated text debate, we stopped being friends. (Hi, Erika!)
Hey, We Meet Again
I thought I won that stint with Erika.
Then, in third year, I had a classmate who was a vegetarian and I thought she was so cool. She didn’t make a big deal over her eating preferences; neither was she judgmental in any way. She didn’t even explain why she was vegetarian. She would just say it’s just the way things are. She just let us be while she enjoyed her animal-free fares.
I didn’t think about it then, but now I believe that’s when I began thinking about vegetarianism. In my subconscious mind, I might have decided I’d do the same someday, too. But for a different reason: I envied Madel because she’s so pretty and skinny.
For All the Wrong Reasons
Years rolled by and so did I. Soon, after bags of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and boxes of chocolate milk, I turned into a barrel girl. At one point, I was 65 kgs (circa 2011). At 4’11, I loathed myself. I tried going to the gym but after about three months I realized I’m not a gym girl. (Actually, even now.)
Then, somewhere along the line, I heard on TV that beef is worse than pork for people trying to lose weight, since beef fat is practically invisible. I decided to make myself my own guinea pig, so I completely cut off beef from my diet. That meant saying a tearful goodbye to my favorite pinapaitan. (There’s an urban legend circulating around my family that I used to eat half a kilogram of pinapaitan back in elementary days.) But after half a year of staying away from beef, Cheetos, and Chuckie – I lost weight.
That’s when I realized, it’s not gym. It’s food. If I want to lose weight, I’d have to cut down on the bad things that make me fat.
So I decided to go vegetarian. I told Papa I won’t eat animals anymore. It lasted for about two days because when Saturday came, Papa made the most delicious sinigang na pata (soured pork leg) and said: “This is what you’re going to miss.”
And I told vegetarianism, “I’m sorry. It’s not gonna work.”
Could We Start Again, Please?
Then, on the afternoon of Holy Wednesday 2012, I went home and found my Inoo missing. I looked everywhere but he wasn’t anywhere. I could hear him frantically barking and I followed the sound of his voice to our neighbor’s house.
Our neighbor who was a known drug addict. I knew for a fact he killed his dog one night.
Enveloped in fear for my son’s life, I called and called on him for a whole hour. I knew he was there; I could see him from behind the curtains. But for reasons we both know, he wouldn’t come out.
I grew desperate and threatened I’d call the police. He let Inoo out.
Inoo finished two basins of water. Then, he jumped on me, wrapping his front legs around my neck and I saw it in his eyes: fear.
That’s the exact moment I realized for the first time non-human animals can feel.
Then in my mind I saw cows, chickens, pigs, fish, goats and all the other animals I’ve eaten staring at me with the same fear I saw in Inoo’s eyes.
I cried. I couldn’t eat anymore. I was stricken with so much guilt that I knew I had to do something about it. I needed peace of my mind. So I went to a Protestant Lent service with my sister.
And everything was in its perfect place. That day, the reading was from Prophet Daniel. Angel, my sister, leaned over and whispered, “He’s vegetarian.”
After the service, I ate my last animal meal: it was my mother’s pork adobo.
The Honeymoon Phase
I was vegetarian for the animals and I was in love. It was a miracle I could say no to my parents’ scrumptious cooking without batting an eyelash.
On the first two weeks, I was surviving on nothing but peanut butter sandwich. Then, I kept in touch with Madel (see above) and she taught me a couple of tofu recipes. Then, I scoured for recipes from the Internet. I was able to recreate delicious vegetable curry, a few veganized Filipino favorites from the awesome site Astig Vegan, and some of Chloe Coscarelli’s perfect desserts. I easily went on fruit cleanses with crazy results. Soon, Angel joined me and we started on this happy journey together. In 2013, Angel and I attended a seminar in Puerto Princesa, Palawan and ate at our first vegetarian restaurant: Ima’s Vegetarian Restaurant. Neither of us craved for the food we were used to; after all, we felt we could veganize everything. Everything was awesome.
We felt great. We felt we were doing something good for the planet. And without it being our motivation, we beautifully lost weight.
Then, Angel developed mastitis. Our eldest sister, the nurse, suspected soy. From then on, she was prohibited from soy milk and tofu and beans. She was forced to eat “normal” food. No matter how I try convincing my family that soy isn’t the cause – since how come it didn’t have a bad effect on me? – I was alone again.
Still, I persevered. Even though my family thought I caused Angel’s mastitis – she’s okay now, by the way, and she’s back to being an omnivore – I didn’t abandon my eating principles.
Suddenly, because I was alone, everything was harder than it was before. I realized my friends from work weren’t inviting me when they ate out or in parties because I wouldn’t eat what they would. In 2014, I went to Iloilo and was helpless in the hands of my relatives who fed me lots of fish. Then in 2015, I was faced with different circumstances that forced me to eat animals: at Church, I felt guilty because the food came from the generosity of the poor; at my new job in the Schools Division Office, I had to become a member of the family.
Then, I fell for a man.
He was everything I wasn’t looking for: the cigarette, the drinking, the cursing, the tattoos. And he loved to eat… everything. He loved meat. But I thought that he was the one.
One morning, as I prepped myself, Mama said I’m going to be hard to love because I’m high maintenance.
And my friends at the office said I’m going to be a pain in the ass to take on dates because looking for a place to eat would be a challenge.
So, I tried to eat like a “normal” person. I started eating regular cakes and ice cream. I ate a bit of fish and chicken every now and then. (I guess it’s a good thing it turned out I’m allergic to chicken.) Eggs became a semi-regular breakfast fare. (I’m allergic to it, too, but I have to honest that I loved omelette again.) I ate marshmallows, gelatin, and regular chocolates.
So I gave up my principles.
But he didn’t take me.
Instead of going back on my way, I self-destructed. In heartbreak I drowned myself in regular cakes and ice cream and chocolate. I wrapped myself in cheese. I healed my broken heart with chicken soup.
I felt miserable. For my broken heart. Not for the animals.
And Now We’re Starting Over Again
If it’s for health or fitness reasons, going vegetarian is impossible. For it, in my case, to be easy, it has to come from somewhere beyond wellness. The first time, the trigger moment was Inoo’s fear and the discovery about Prophet Daniel. This time, it is something that seems to have nothing to do with vegetarianism at all: the fact that the Philippine nation has gone sick.
Yes. This is about the 6,000 killings happening in less than six months.
What’s happening in the Philippines now is appalling. An average of 30 people are killed every day. And what’s most appalling is the widespread support and tolerance of these inhuman acts. There are even some sick minds cheering this savagery.
I mentioned earlier that this seems to have nothing to do with vegetarianism, but truth is it has everything to do with eating animals. Our blatant disregard for the life of non-human animals is not at all different to this support and tolerance for bloodshed.
How miserable that it has to take 6,000 deaths to make me realize that every form of life is important. Even non-human animals. Even suspected criminals.
I’ve not eaten any animal or animal byproduct for sixteen days now. And you know what? This time, with my new realizations, I feel strong.